16. November 2017 · Comments Off on Feeling on top of the world – Hiking Mount Katahdin · Categories: Uncategorized

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Photo courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Katahdin

In 2008 we hiked Mount Katahdin. It was my first real hiking challenge. We were heading to Maine to attend a wedding and decided to hike the 5,267-foot mountain the day before the wedding. I had no prior major hiking experience, heck I didn’t even really work out at the time. I was unprepared but driven. Everyone I knew told me they didn’t think I would be able to do it. That I was too much of a princess. This is a challenge I have faced several times in my life. I have never really thought of myself as materialistic or what I would consider “high maintenance.” But for some reason people looked at me like I was an incapable princess. I hated this label. I still do and I have been trying to prove them wrong ever since. I now have an attitude of “watch me.” When someone tells me, I won’t be able to do something I just say “watch me.” That’s how I felt about Mount Katahdin.

The plan was to camp at the base of the mountain and leave before first light to get a head start up the trail. We both had full packs with our camping gear and food and had only been dating for a couple months. This trip could have ended in several very interesting ways. We headed out onto the trail at around 4 in the morning, it was dark and chilly but extremely exhilarating. I had never done anything like this but I knew I loved nature and couldn’t wait to see what this mountain had to offer.

There is a point, generally right in the beginning of a strenuous hike, where your heart rate increases and you kind of feel like you might die. After a short while your body kind of adjusts and you get used to it. This is most noticeable when you start your first incline. I had no idea what to expect at the time so when we started to ascend through the trees I found myself breathing heavy with my heart pounding out of my chest. I thought I was finished before we even started. As the dread welled up inside me I almost wanted to cry thinking how everyone was going to say “I told you so, I knew you couldn’t do it” and I just couldn’t live with that. So, I pulled up all the courage I had and pushed on.

The sun started to rise and my body started to warm up and I started feeling good again. It is really amazing how your body adjusts to the elements. I honestly didn’t know that my body was capable of such things, that it could handle a lot more than I ever threw at it. But that day on the mountain I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of.

We met a few hikers coming off the mountain who had gotten trapped at the summit the previous day when a hail storm started, with high winds and bitter cold. The higher the elevation the more unpredictable the weather can be, I was hoping this was not going to be our fate as well.

The higher up the mountain you got the more the scenery changed. At the base you have tall evergreens and leafy trees towering over you and closing in around you, full of life. As you go up in elevation the trees continue to get shorter, the land more barren. We became surrounded by stubby little pines and hardier bushes, ones that could withstand the tough climate of the higher elevations.

Eventually the trees disappeared altogether and we were left with rocks, boulders actually, that you had to climb to reach the plateau, a grassy area just before the final ascent to the summit. Along the way you follow the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail but if you are not careful a white mark on a rock can look like a white blaze and you can easily get into a very scary situation. Somehow, I only managed to veer us off trail once. The rocky section was my favorite. I love climbing rocks. Not in the way you see mountaineers climbing rocks, with ropes and picks, hanging off the side of a cliff, but in the climb up over big boulders kind of way.

We arrived at the plateau, an easier, flatter section of the trail. Or at least I thought it was going to be easier. This was my first experience with a significant elevation change and thinner air. Just walking on a flat surface took all I had and I was huffing and puffing in minutes, feeling like I couldn’t get enough oxygen. I had to constantly take breaks. Come to find out this is extremely common at altitudes of around 5,000 ft. There is a condition called altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness that happens to some but usually occurs at altitudes greater than 8,000 ft and if left unchecked can become deadly. Everyone handles altitude changes differently, I tend to get out of breath but otherwise feel pretty good and I feel like over the years as I have hiked more, and higher altitudes, it doesn’t affect me quite as severely as it first did on Mount Katahdin.

We continued on and made it to the summit. We were joined by some thru hikers who had just finished the Appalachian Trail and a few other day hikers. It was an exhilarating feeling to say the least. I felt so accomplished, so proud of myself. I had achieved something that I never would have dreamed possible before then and instilled in me a serious penchant for hiking. I wanted more and I still do. That mountain changed me that day, putting me on the path to the person I have become with this avid need to wander and explore the beauty that mother nature provides. It’s the most amazing feeling and this constant driving need.

The views from the summit of Mount Katahdin was spectacular with 360 degrees of open air. There is a side trail that you can take along the summit called the “Knife’s Edge” with drops on either side and the potential for some serious vertigo if you are prone to that. I had zero interest in hiking that part of the trail, what with my fear of heights and all, so we just sat at the summit admiring the views while we ate our lunch. Then we made our way back down the mountain.

The next day I couldn’t walk. Stairs were impossible. I had never been so sore in my entire life but I couldn’t help but smile at what I had accomplished. Even now, almost 10 years later I still feel pride well up inside me when I think about what I achieved and no one can ever take that away from me.

This has led to a serious desire to conquer more mountains, hike more trails and to get out and enjoy nature more. It has also made me stronger in other areas in my life, more determined to push through adversity. If I can conquer a mountain I can conquer anything I put my mind too and it’s worked out pretty well for me so far, I have to say.

Do you have any hiking stories that have changed you, made you braver, more mindful, more courageous? How has it changed your life?